What will be the development “buzz words” of 2013?

Apart from being the year of the wonderful London Olympics, 2012 has been the year of the doughnut and sustainable development goals; land grabs and tax dodgers; debate about whether we should give aid to India or to Rwanda; and a new focus on inequality – in the international development NGO bubble, at least.

We didn’t get legislation on 0.7%, or any real progress at the UN climate talks in Doha.  But we did get a Number 10 High Level Meeting on Hunger and a new focus from David Cameron on the “golden thread” of development – whatever that actually means. We’ve been talking about the scourge of hunger and a need for investment in agriculture overseas, at the same time seeing alarming demand for food banks here in the UK.

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Justine Greening MP (picture from DFID website)

We have had a new Secretary of State for International Development here in the UK in the form of Justine Greening, an EU in economic crisis and a re-elected US President who we’re all willing to do something a bit more radical on climate and development – but we’re not holding our breath.

So, it’s that time of year where we look forward to what we might be talking about in 2013.  Here’s my best guess, which is obviously bound to look horribly out of date by around April…

1. Transparency

In his Wall Street Journal article, David Cameron set out why he feels transparency has such an important role to play in development. Our partners in Tanzania, carrying out public expenditure projects to ensure that schools and clinics get the funding they need, couldn’t agree more. The UK is chair of the G8 and of the Open Government Partnership in 2013 and is in a strong position to drive forward initiatives that can increase transparency, both in how governments raise money (particularly tax payments and money for natural resources) and how they spend it – with more open budgets. The EU are also in the final stage of debating the expected legislation to make oil, gas and mining companies publish what they pay to governments, which is something Tearfund has been campaigning for and which should really help communities to track how the money is spent.

2013 could be a really good year for transparency. But transparency should not be seen as a panacea.  Making financial information public is a great start, but it needs to be in a format which is easily accessed and understood by local communities.  Capacity has to be built so that people can digest it and then speak out.  And a free press and accountable governance structures are vital.  Tearfund will be working with our partners on new research on how best to build on transparency to bring about lasting change over the next year.

2. Planetary Boundaries

ImageThe global climate change talks have all but ground to a halt.  There is a fundamental disagreement about how to balance the cost of putting development on a more sustainable footing – between developed nations who are responsible for nearly all carbon emissions historically, or the rapidly developing middle income countries whose future carbon emissions could be substantial. And carbon is but one of 9 planetary boundaries which have already been breached or are likely to be soon.

Oxfam have done a brilliant job of bringing life to the science behind this concept and of making it relevant to the international development debate. And Alex Evans has written about the importance of bringing this thinking into the debate on the new framework for development which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (and should bring in the new sustainable development goals).  I’m confident that this issue will continue to rise up the development agenda given it’s urgency and because – as the poorest communities are affected first and most deeply when the environment deteriorates – it is fundamentally about justice. We need to continue to work together to re-frame the climate change debate and to build a public mandate for truly sustainable development across the globe.

3. Predistribution

A bit left-field here, but predistribution is an idea initially put forward by US academic Jacob Hacker but gaining popularity with the centre-Left in the UK and elsewhere.  Basically it is the idea that the state should try to prevent inequalities occurring in the first place rather than trying to reduce them through the tax and benefits system. In the UK it is an idea that has become quite strongly linked to the living wage campaign.

But to me, predistribution is the essence of what the development debate should be about. Rather than squabbling about a minimal aid budget, we should be focused on tackling the root causes of inequality – both between and within nations. And of course, that is what many NGO campaigns are about.  But we still need to make that idea more popular and palatable – and I suppose wonk words like predistribution may not help that cause! But it could give these ideas more political saliency, at least in some quarters.

So, those are my thoughts, but what do you think?  What are the obvious things missing from this list?

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